Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Although the greatest period of film adaptations of the novels of Alistair MacLean was in the 1960’s (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA, WHERE EAGLES DARE etc.), a steady stream of them continued through the 1970’s (Chris reviewed the excellent FEAR IS THE KEY, with Barry Newman, here at BTC a while back), and they were still coming out in the late 70’s, when this South African production was made. It did not get a US theatrical release, but premiered as a “Movie of the Week” on network TV. The problems with the production made the headlines at the time and even today are an entertaining read (director Freddie Francis was replaced; the cobbled-together financing of the film caused a political scandal in South Africa; star Richard Harris was allegedly drinking a bottle of vodka a day….Harris’ classic answer to that charge was that EVERYONE on the film was drinking, not just him!), some will feel more entertaining than the film is, but taken in the right spirit, GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS mixes the conventions of the typical disaster film with a ship-under-siege-by-an-armed-gang plot in a way that should entertain the genre-film fan who appreciates off-shore productions (like the films of Harry Alan Towers).

It's a shame that this did not get released on the drive-in circuit here in the USA as it would have been the perfect fodder for the fuzzed-out drive-in patron more interested in his date or his six-pack or his joints than the specifics of the film, but who wants to be entertained when he comes back up for air and who can re-join the plot at any point and not get lost….you’ve got a cast full of down-on-their-luck but colorful stars who still are worth watching and who are not at all kept in check by the director (unlike, say, in a guest shot on MURDER, SHE WROTE), lots of action and violence, a good amount of humor woven into the first half, a musical score (brash and tacky verging-on-disco synthesizer with a beat) that could telegraph to someone a mile away what’s happening, and a talented cast who play the material just right.

Richard Harris was then in his brief action-film-star period, and Harris was such a multi-talented man that he could read the phone book (if we still had phone books) and be simultaneously mesmerizing and witty and charming and assertive. Surely, the producers felt that they could tap into Harris’ success in films such as JUGGERNAUT and THE CASSANDRA CROSSING by hiring him for this, and to a large extent, they succeeded as Harris does carry this film admirably. In some ways GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS could be called a low-rent version of THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, but set on the high seas.

Besides Harris, you’ve got what could only be called a dream cast of people who’d work in anything, and to a person, they are all EXACTLY what they were paid to be: entertaining caricatures of their usual roles and/or public persona. David Janssen, who usually did a great job playing burned-out characters, has never been more blitzed-looking and out of it. I can’t believe he could have hit his marks and delivered his lines correctly if he’d actually been inebriated, so I will credit his convincing portrayal as a depressed drunk to great acting. Burgess Meredith once again plays a variation on his Penguin persona, as he did so often in the 1970’s. Meredith, a fine, classically trained actor who once played the lead role in Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN (and who once collaborated with John Cage!!!), could always steal any scene he was in, and here as a compulsive gambler who is having a whale of a time blowing his money in the ship's casino, he is a hoot. In fact, when John Vernon (also great, as he always is, and menacing….one of Canada’s national treasures, in my humble opinion) and his ragtag band of terrorists are shooting everything up and threatening to kill everyone, Meredith casually asks if he can finish playing out his hand at the casino card table before they get into their terrorizing! And Vernon says, yes of course….and Meredith plays out his hand! It’s THAT kind of film. John Carradine is usually shadowing Meredith in the casino scenes, and just when you forget that he’s in the film, he shows up and utters some sarcastic aside or humorous observation. Filmmakers ALWAYS got their money’s worth with John Carradine. Even Dorothy Malone shows up, lending her inimitable class to the proceedings. Was John Ireland not available? A part could easily have been written in for him—some of the supporting characters, such as Janssen and Meredith, were not even in the Alistair MacLean source novel, so there would be no excuse for not wedging another colorful supporting character into the script (a script that Harris claimed was being re-written as they went along).

Evidently the MacLean novel, which was published in 1962, had been optioned by Laurence Harvey soon after its publication, and had it been made back then, it would have been a much different film….probably a much “better” film to those who are looking for a serious, well-made project that would get excellent reviews from mainstream critics. However, for the few, the proud, the BTC readers, GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS has the woozy, straight-to-video action film feel, the mindless violence within a cartoon framework, the aggressively cheesy synthesizer score, the star cameos all played quite broadly, and the humor (the scenes between Harris and leading lady Ann Turkel, after their initial mutual hatred, are very entertaining as they insult each other and tease each other at the same time) that we expect and enjoy from such a film….a film which seems to emerge out of some vaguely defined international netherworld into the low-grade genre-film marketplace. Just imagine you picked up a sixpack of Mickey’s Malt Liquor at the convenience store, and you headed to your local drive-in circa 1981 and GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS is playing. Come into it with no real expectations (I had never heard of the film when I first got a DVD-R of it from a friend), and you’ll find yourself entertained and distracted from the drudgery of everyday life for 105 golden minutes. It’s sure as hell going to be more entertaining than some pretentious Sundance-wannabe “indie” feature film praised at Slate or on NPR… or some “edgy” Netflix series that would appeal only to people with an MFA who live east of the Hudson. You won’t find David Janssen as a drunk or Burgess Meredith as a degenerate gambler in those! And they won’t have an in-your-face disco-fied synthesizer score either!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Janssen had an intense work ethic and was a solid professional, so it's highly doubtful he was drunk in real life.